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Sez who?

by Derek Jory / Vancouver Canucks

My grandpa always used to tell me that “opinions are like…” actually I can’t pass on the wisdom my grandpa used to share with me without swearing.

His point was that everyone has an opinion, good, bad or otherwise, and this time of year, that’s especially prevalent.

Right now, every NHL team is undefeated and on its way to winning the Stanley Cup.

As we all know, only one team will actually hoist the Holy Grail; ask an Oilers fan and they say it’ll be Edmonton, stop in Philadelphia and word on the street is the Flyers, poll school kids from Anaheim and the Ducks will be on top.

Ask a panel of hockey experts spread throughout North America and their answers are just as divided. Keep in mind they’re paid to be impartial. The NHL landscape is just that vast heading into the 2011-12 season.

Last season the Canucks were heavy favourites to play in the Stanley Cup Final, which they did.

This year? It depends who you ask.

The main question for ESPN’s Scott Burnside in Canucks: 10 Things You Need To Know, pertains to how last year ended and “whether that bitter disappointment galvanizes this still-talented unit or whether it shatters them.”

Of Burnside’s 10 things, he notes that statistically speaking, the Canucks will have a difficult time again leading the league in “wins, goals per game and power-play efficiency, while also leading in goals allowed per game and ranking third in penalty killing,” and that mental toughness needs to improve both with individual players and the team as a whole.

Overall, Burnside said Vancouver has more questions to answer than ever before. Still, even with that in mind, he was one of eight ESPN experts who weighed in and made division, conference and a Stanley Cup Final picks, taking the Canucks as part of a clean sweep to win the Northwest Division for a fourth consecutive season.

Only one ESPN personality, namely Matthew Barnaby, has the Canucks winning the Western Conference, however, with Vancouver not receiving a single vote to hoist the Cup.

Poppycock.

In terms of individual awards, no Canucks will win anything, according to the panel.

Moving on.

TSN’s 30 Teams in 30 Days provides a nice overall picture of Vancouver, but again, question marks are everywhere in terms of why the Canucks fell apart last year and if that will affect them this season.

Many of those questions, fairly or not, will be answered by the play of goaltender Roberto Luongo as the article suggests he’s On The Hot Seat.

“With chants for Cory Schneider getting louder, it could be his final chance to erase the perceived reputation as a goalie who can't handle the playoff pressure. His final chance in Vancouver, anyways. Anything can happen.”

Alex Edler is primed for a big year as TSN’s Breakout Player to Watch. If he can find another gear, the article states, he “has the possibility of being one of the main guys to lead the Canucks deep into the playoffs once again.”

There are reasons to believe the Canucks can make another run for the Cup, and reasons to believe they won’t, but in the end the verdict for TSN is an easy one.

“The Canucks will entertain on a nightly basis and will likely pile up wins, points and personal accolades along the way. But nothing will matter until the playoffs start. They've accomplished everything an NHL franchise can - except capture the Stanley Cup. Hands down, they're Canada's best shot at a championship.”

Edmonton Sun sports columnist Terry Jones and some other Sun media writers threw their hats in the ring as well, but only one, Jones himself, made mention of the Canucks when making a Stanley Cup Final prediction.

If Jones’ crystal ball is telling the truth, the Canucks will face the Boston Bruins, again.

This time things end differently.

“There’s no reason the Vancouver Canucks can’t win the Presidents’ Trophy again with the number of games they play against won’t-make-the-playoffs-again Northwest Division opposition. It’s the old “find the door, knock on the door, knock the door down” deal. It’s time for the Canucks to knock the door down.

“And why not Boston in the final again?”

Jones also has Henrik Sedin as this year’s Hart Trophy winner for the second time in three seasons.

“Of course, I could be wrong about this. It could be Daniel Sedin instead,” Jones quipped.

In last year’s Sez Who? the Canucks received as much love from writers in Toronto as…as…I don’t even have a clever line – Vancouver getting love from the Centre of the Universe is downright shocking.

Steve MacFarlane of the Toronto Sun sites hunger and talent, and maybe a little luck, as “the two elements a team needs most to win an NHL crown.”

The Coles Notes version of his piece reads as follows: “Roberto Luongo is an elite goalie,” “Cory Schneider is no slouch,” “Daniel and Henrik Sedin will challenge for the Art Ross, and Alex Burrows, Mikael Samuelsson, Christopher Higgins and Marco Sturm provide plenty of secondary scoring,” and despite losing Christian Ehrhoff, “they still have Dan Hamhuis, Kevin Bieksa, Alex Edler, Sami Salo and Keith Ballard anchoring the blueline.

“It's still a winning roster -- a Presidents' Trophy candidate.”

MacFarlane, wanting to clarify why he’s choosing the Canucks to win it all, said he’s doing it for all the right reasons.

“For the record, I don't root for the Canucks. I haven't really rooted for anything but a good story for almost a decade -- ever since I came to grips with the fact my hometown Toronto Maple Leafs will never win a Cup in my lifetime.”

Hand up if you gained an appreciation for MacFarlane there…I see a lot of hands up!

Now for the prediction that seemingly means the most, or at least it did last year: the NHL 12 Season Simulation from EA Sports.

To recap, the simulator picked the Canucks to win the Presidents’ Trophy last year, which they did, it picked Vancouver and Boston to meet in the Final, which they did, and it also correctly selected 13 of 15 playoff series in 2010-11.

Eerie, I know.

Good news for the Canucks, individually they will again thrive this year as Daniel Sedin (32-64-96) and Henrik Sedin (21-73-94) finish fourth and sixth in scoring, Roberto Luongo wins a league-high 41 games with an NHL best 2.21 goals against average and a 92.9 save percentage and Daniel wins the Lady Byng.

As a team, Vancouver captures the Presidents’ Trophy for the second straight season with 114 points, but it’s the Pittsburgh Penguins who will hoist the Cup when all is said and done.

The Canucks route the Minnesota Wild 4-0 to open the playoffs, then squeak past the LA Kings 4-3 to head to the Western Conference Final. With a chance to head back to the dance, top-seeded Vancouver loses out to the Chicago Blackhawks in seven games.

Oh really computer?

Like I said earlier, opinions are like…

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